2016 was the worst year ever, and 2017 was the year we found our footing

By : Jeremy Williams
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In these very pages one year ago we proclaimed 2016 to be the worst year ever. It started off with so much promise and optimism, with the official passing of the torch as the former owner of Watermark turned the reins over to new owner Rick Claggett and Watermark Media became Watermark Publishing Group.

President Barack Obama was heading into the final year of his second term and everything seemed in place for another torch to be passed, that of the first black president passing the country off to the first female president.

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Watermark’s Top headlines of 2017

By : Watermark Staff
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2017 was a roller coaster of a year. Our highs were marked with great achievements and big celebrations, and our lows were filled with the passing of great LGBTQ leaders and fear-filled headlines we thought we would never read.

Below we look back on the top 5 LGBTQ headlines out of Central Florida, Tampa Bay, from the state of Florida and across the nation, and the world.

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U.S. sanctions Chechnya officials behind anti-gay crackdown

By : Michael K. Lavers OF THE WASHINGTON BLADE, COURTESY OF THE NATIONAL LGBT MEDIA ASSOCIATION
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ABOVE: The U.S. has used the Magnitsky Act to sanction Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov over human rights abuses in the semi-autonomous Russian republic. Photo by Alexxx1979; courtesy Wikimedia Commons

The U.S. on Wednesday imposed sanctions against two Chechen officials under a 2012 human rights law.

Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov and Ayub Kataev of the Chechen Internal Affairs Ministry are among the five Russian citizens who have been added to the list of those sanctioned under the Magnitsky Act, which freezes the assets of Russians who commit human rights abuses and bans them from entering the U.S. The law is named after Sergei Magnitsky, a Russian lawyer who died in a Moscow prison in 2009 after authorities arrested him after he investigated a $230 million tax fraud scheme.

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Prominent activist heckles Russian ambassador over Chechnya

By : MICHAEL K. LAVERS of the Washington Blade, courtesy of the National LGBT Media Association
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A prominent activist on Wednesday heckled Russia’s ambassador to the U.S. over the anti-LGBT crackdown in Chechnya.

A video posted to Michael Petrelis’ Facebook page shows him shouting “Stop killing gay Chechens” at Anatoly Antonov as he was delivering a speech at the Fairmont Hotel in San Francisco.

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Canadian group resettles LGBT refugees from Chechnya

By : Helen Parshall of the Washington Blade, courtesy of the National LGBT Media Association
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ABOVE: Rainbow Railroad Executive Director Kimahli Powell. His organization has resettled nearly 50 LGBT Chechens. (Photo courtesy of Kimahli Powell)

Kimahli Powell hopes that with international eyes on the crisis of LGBT people fleeing Chechnya, a light can be shed on the plight of LGBT refugees around the world.

Powell is the executive director of Rainbow Railroad, an organization based in Canada that works to help “LGBT people who have faced physical violence or face an imminent threat of violence, imprisonment or death” find safety.

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Senate unanimously approves Chechnya resolution

By : MICHAEL K. LAVERS of the Washington Blade, courtesy of the National LGBT Media Association
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The U.S. Senate on Tuesday unanimously approved a resolution that condemns the ongoing crackdown against LGBT people in Chechnya.

U.S. Sens. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) and Ed Markey (D-Mass.) introduced the resolution earlier this year. The U.S. House of Representatives in June unanimously approved a nearly identical resolution that U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) introduced.

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Situation for LGBT Chechens remains perilous

By : Helen Parshall of the Washington Blade, courtesy of the National LGBT Media Association
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Advocates say that the situation in Chechnya remains dire roughly six months after initial reports of arrests, torture and killings of LGBT Chechens emerged.

“It should not be like this. We are all people. We all have rights,” Maxim Laponov said in a press conference on Monday outside the Moscow offices of Novaya Gazeta, an independent Russian newspaper that broke the story of the crackdown. “If those rights can be violated [in Chechnya], it could happen in any region. And no one knows whose son or daughter will be next.”

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Senate committee unanimously approves Chechnya resolution

By : MICHAEL K. LAVERS of the Washington Blade, courtesy of the National LGBT Media Association
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The Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Thursday unanimously approved a resolution that condemns the anti-LGBT crackdown in Chechnya.

U.S. Sens. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) and Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) introduced the resolution in June. The U.S. House of Representatives in the same month approved an identical resolution that U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) introduced.

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Tillerson raises anti-gay Chechnya crackdown with Russian counterpart

By : MICHAEL K. LAVERS of the Washington Blade, courtesy of the National LGBT Media Association
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The State Department on Tuesday confirmed Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has expressed concern about the ongoing anti-gay crackdown in Chechnya with his Russian counterpart.

The Washington Post in a Sept. 1 article about a transgender Chechen woman who has received asylum in the U.S. noted Tillerson wrote a letter to Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.

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Russian group claims to have evacuated 64 people from Chechnya

By : MICHAEL K. LAVERS of the Washington Blade, courtesy of the National LGBT Media Association
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A Russian LGBT advocacy group says it has evacuated 64 people from Chechnya over the last four months.

A 31-page report the Russian LGBT Network released on Monday notes those it has helped leave the semi-autonomous Russian republic in the North Caucuses “were relocated” to shelters in central Russia. The Russian LGBT Network, which is based in St. Petersburg, also said more than 130 people from Chechnya and neighboring republics have “requested assistance of a different nature because of the persecution from the local authorities and hostile relatives.”

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State Dept. dodges question about Tillerson’s silence on Chechnya

By : MICHAEL K. LAVERS of the Washington Blade, courtesy of the National LGBT Media Association
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State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert on Tuesday did not say why Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has yet to publicly condemn the ongoing crackdown against gay men in Chechnya.

Nauert noted to the Washington Blade during a press briefing the State Department has urged the Russian government to conduct an investigation into the crackdown.

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Jussie Smollett, Tituss Burgess keep #EyesOnChechnya in MTV advocacy video

By : MARIAH COOPER OF THE WASHINGTON BLADE, COURTESY OF THE NATIONAL LGBT MEDIA ASSOCIATION
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Jussie Smollett, Tituss Burgess and Carson Kressley, among others, have joined forces with MTV to bring awareness to the anti-gay persecution in the Russian republic of Chechnya.

“In Chechnya, gay and bisexual men have been hunted down, rounded up, and continue to be illegally detained in prison. Many have been tortured and at least three men have been murdered,” reads a post on MTV’s website. “In spite of these horrors, not enough people are aware of what’s happening or taking action.Together we can raise the volume on the public outcry, and let the world know that we have our #EyesOnChechnya.”

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